As a convert from the protestant faith, I’ve found it remarkable how much culture there is in being a Catholic. Growing up in a Baptist church, we had a great sense of community, but it was only amongst ourselves, confined to the walls of our own church. We had potlucks, camps, vacation bible school, and the such, but there was not necessarily single unifying force other than we all attended the same church for one reason or another. Some of those who attended enjoyed the sermons, others enjoyed the music, others believed it was doctrinally sound (although it was an independent Baptist Church and subsequently did not strictly adhere to any creeds or confessions per se). If you would have polled the Church I doubt that everyone would have believed the same; I doubt that even half would have had much cohesion, but within the Catholic Church there is no guesswork involved when it comes to doctrine and dogma, and while people may have preferences for one parish or another, there is no preference for the type of Church, that is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church was an eye opening conversion process. From the strict adherence to traditional doctrines to the sense of community and traditions that bound us all together. I remember during my wife and I’s first lent, we noticed that many restaurants brought out a new menu (of course slated as a limited time offer), and these were the fish and seafood selections. Now of course for the sake of being politically correct they never announced it as a menu for Friday’s during lent, but it accomplished just the same. We began to notice those around us on Fridays ordering the Shrimp tacos, or the portabella burgers, and it finally started to click that we were a part of something much larger than ourselves. People from parishes other than our own adhered to the same rules, the same strict observations, and the same penitential nature.
When we sit down to eat at home or out, we love to say our prayer and make the sign of the cross, not because we are trying to show off, and not because we want to be martyred by anyone who finds such a symbolic act offensive, but rather because it is a duty of ours, a great gift from God to allow us such an opportunity to be in communion with him during the most basic of human activities, and because it does create a sense of community. Seeing others make the sign of the cross in public is an immediate identification as a member of the faithful and even if we don’t approach those individuals, it is still important to make public acts of the faith for the sense of community. To know that you are not alone in a country which cannot embrace the faith you believe in is a great way to appreciate the Faith that we hold so dear.
On Ash Wednesday we are all constantly informed that we have a ‘smudge of dirt’ on our foreheads. When a funeral procession passes we are reminded of our mortality and that we have prayers to say for those who have entered into the afterlife. When we enter another persons home, we notice the crucifix hanging on the wall. When we are driving we notice the prayer cards stuck to visors and the rosaries hanging from rear-view mirrors. When we are gathered together we recite prayers amongst each other, commons prayers and not-so-common, as a way of bonding and forming community while worshiping and giving adoration unto God.
This community, this truly Catholic culture, is larger than ourselves, our families, or our Parishes. There is an entire world of people who believe the same at the core, and adhere to Catholic dogmas, and have continued to do so for two millennia, carrying on the traditions of those who came before them. I could not be more excited being a part of the Catholic Church, not only for my wife and I to belong to such a wonderful community and feel at home, but to create a home for our children someday where they can grow up with that strong sense of culture and community in the Catholic Church, serving the Mass, learning their prayers, crossing themselves, and reciting the rosary with friends.
The sense of a truly Catholic Culture, transcending the boundaries of ethnicity, political views, and local customs is a thing many of us take for granted. As someone who grew up protestant, and sampled many flavors and creeds of protestantism along the conversion process, I have to remind myself that it is not all for naught. A sense of gratitude for the Catholic literary giants, for the Church Fathers who saw it fit to write as much as they did, an ability to trace apostolic succession as readily as it is available helps us humble ourselves. I have never traveled outside of the United States, besides a brief trip across the border into Mexico when I was very young. In the United States, something is considered old if it is a mere couple hundred years old, while other places in the world, there are monuments that predate Christ. I think it is important for us to remember that the Church has such a great sense of history, transcending every great empire that has come and go since. This is the only metaphor for my conversion to Catholicism that seems appropriate; a man who has only seen historic sites dating back to the 1700’s, entering Europe realizing he is traveling down a road older than his own country. This is the sense of wonder that I felt and still feel when I contemplate the Catholic Church’s culture and the community that embraces it.
As a final thought, I will leave you with this video of a “Eucharistic Flash Mob”. I wonder how many of the people in the video were from different areas, how many were tourists and how many were not even sure why they felt compelled to kneel.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.